Home » Aviation » VIDEO: U.K. Carrier Program Brings ‘Two More for the Good Guys’ as Royal Navy Set to Partner More with U.S., French Navies

VIDEO: U.K. Carrier Program Brings ‘Two More for the Good Guys’ as Royal Navy Set to Partner More with U.S., French Navies

Two F-35B Lightning II fighter successfully landed onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth on Sept. 25, 2018. Lockheed Martin Photo

ABOARD HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH, OFF THE COAST OF NEW JERSEY – The Royal Navy lays out the intentions of its largest warship to visitors immediately.

“HMS Queen Elizabeth: Welcome to Britain’s Conventional Deterrent,” reads a giant sign hanging in the carrier’s second island, over a ladder well just off the flight deck.

The 70,000-ton carrier and its sister ship, Prince of Wales (R09), and their embarked air wings of F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters are set to be the centerpiece of Britain’s nascent carrier strike group construct. The move – after years of starts and stops – is reshaping the Royal Navy from a force that was a key NATO partner focused on anti-submarine and mine warfare in the Cold War to one that will blend closely with the carrier forces of American and French allies.

“The U.S. has 11 carriers,” ship commander Capt. Jerry Kyd told USNI News last week.
“We’ll bring two more for the good guys, as we see it.”

The ship was off the East Coast last week conducting the first shipboard F-35 tests with American aircraft, kicking off several years of testing ahead of a planned deployment in 2021.

“We used to do this a lot in the U.K., but we’ve had a bit of a gap getting back into the carrier strike business,” Royal Navy Commodore Andrew Betton, commander of the U.K. carrier strike group, told USNI News last week.
“[We’re] working alongside our French and U.S. partners to understand the most effective way of fighting and operating a carrier strike group.”

Aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08). USNI News Photo

Last year, the heads of the U.K., French and U.S. navies signed a formal trilateral cooperation agreement for three navies to work together in the realm of carrier operations and anti-submarine warfare.

“[We] share many national security challenges, including the threats posed by violent extremism and the increasing competition from conventional state actors,” the one-page agreement read.
“More than ever, these threats manifest in the maritime domain. Given these common values, capabilities, and challenges it makes sense for our navies to strengthen our cooperation.”

In particular, the Russian submarine force has been on an aggressive modernization drive and operating attack boats at a rate not seen since the Cold War – which is seen as the prime driver of the recent U.S. focus in the Atlantic. That boost in activity in the Atlantic comes as the U.S. and U.K. are in a period of naval reset after 17 years of operating in support of ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The U.K. is working through a gap in fixed-wing aviation at sea, after London decided to scrap the Royal Navy’s light carriers and fleet of GR7 and GR9 Harrier strike aircraft earlier in the decade. To maintain skills, the U.K. has relied on an extensive exchange program with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps and the French to keep some carrier skills native in the Royal Navy.

Left to right, Adm. Christophe Prazuck Marine Nationale’s Chief of Navy, Adm. Sir Philip Jones KCB ADC, The First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff, and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson sign the 2017 Trilateral Maritime Talks document at the Ministry of Defense in London. U.K. MoD Photo

“We’ve had lots of individuals, pilots, maintainers, etc., operating onboard your flattops of various descriptions, but also we’ve had U.K. units join American [aircraft carriers] on deployments around the world and indeed the French carrier,” Betton said. “The mutual support and interoperability – we haven’t stepped completely away from that, and what we’re trying to rebuild now is the sovereign carrier strike group that we can plug in with allies as and where required.”

Two F-35B assigned to the ‘Salty Dogs’ of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 during testing aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth. USNI News Photo

While the intent of the Ministry of Defence was to field a completely U.K.-generated carrier strike group and air wing, the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force are still years off from that capability. The first operational deployment of the U.K. carrier strike group in 2021 will have an air wing built around U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs assigned to the “Wake Island Avengers” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211, in addition to the RAF’s 617 Lightning F-35B Squadron. As of this summer, the U.K. has received about 16 of the 43 F-35Bs it’s ordered, which prompted the planned deployment of the U.S. Marines on Elizabeth.

The reliance on Marines for the first deployment was presented as a benefit of the program rather than a liability.

“We’re international by design, but there will be a sovereign core to the task force. But we very much look forward to working with allies, whether that is at range or as an integral part of the task group,” Royal Air Force Air Vice-Marshal Harv Smyth, the commander of the U.K.’s fast-jet units, told reporters last week on Elizabeth.
“There are options there.”

While the Royal Navy has operated fixed-wing aviation from ships in the recent past, the level of cooperation proposed between the U.S. and the U.K. for carriers strike group operations will be the largest in decades, Chris Carlson, a retired U.S. Navy captain and naval analyst, told USNI News on Friday.

The U.K. Royal Navy Invincible-class aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious (R 06), and Nimitz-class aircraft carriers USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) and USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) in 2007. US Navy Photo

“With the Brits now trying to integrate their carrier with ours, there isn’t anything in the recent past that gives them something to base this on,” he said.

During the Cold War, the U.K. had a fleet of three 22,000-ton Invincible-class carriers that fielded Harriers that arguably provided little utility in maritime operations and air defense operations, Carlson said.

“Harriers had short legs. They didn’t have a really good air intercept radar, it was just really hard for us to put them in, so [the Invincibles] were looked at as being the centers of ASW escort groups because they could carry a ton of helicopters and the Brits were really good with ASW.”

HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) off the East Coast on Sept. 25, 2018. U.K. MoD Photo

The new cooperation between the U.S., French and U.K. navies will be key to making the British and French get the most out of their carrier forces. Both the U.K. and French are short on carrier escorts and will have to rely on allies.

“It’s making a virtue out of a necessity,” Carlson said.
“They’re going to have to partner with us. They’re going to have to partner with the French because neither one – the French or the Brits – can do sustained operations with a decently balanced [carrier strike] group.”

The current plan is for the Royal Navy to continue testing the carrier strike group into the next decade, with more F-35B testing off the East Coast of the United States next year and a group sail to certify the strike group in 2020, Elizabeth commander Kyd said.

“That’ll be another two years before we’re ready to go out,” he said.
“The first deployment is ’21. Who knows where, but we’ll be ready.”

  • Ed L

    the Brits still have airbases on Cyprus, Gibraltar. NATO bases on Cyprus, Sicily, Rita, Sardinia.

    • El_Sid

      Yep, and heavily used, particularly as a logistics hub for supporting activities in Iraq/Afghan and for overwatch in Syria/Libya, and SIGINT although Brexit may mean that port facilities may need to be upgraded rather than have stuff cross the border from Cypriot ports.

    • RDF

      Is Rita, Rota?

      • Ed L

        Yup. I phone correction Cadiz. If NATO puts in 100+ ASW fix wing the Mediterranean would be a NATO lake

        • RDF

          You a VP guy?

  • Mk-Ultra

    The white makes the ship look absolutely gorgeous.

    It’s going to be great to see our British friends sail along side our carriers brimming with the F-35s.

    A carrier with nothing but those jets will be an awesome sight to behold. Especially once they start adding the tanker drones.

  • tim

    … they are relying on “allied carrier support ships”? Who is that allied force? It is not Germany … they eather build a Kindergarden for their female military staff or buy rescue helicopters with the little money they put in their military. Is the USA supporting those?

  • bob

    While it is nice to see the Senior Service return to the high seas again, the UK drew down a lot of it’s Cold War fleet.

    Like the U.S., they too, bought into the “peace dividend” and stopped investing in capitol ships. I’m not sure if their national budget or ship building capacity will be able to create a home-grown organic escort force for the Q.E. class quickly. So her escorts will invariably be USN, with a leavening of Commonwealth hulls (Canada, Australia, New Zealand) for some time. I’m assuming the RN doctrine will be similar to ours, where the carriers don’t wander about without a few gunslingers about to warn off those with fell intent.

    • El_Sid

      The RN never left the high seas – it was one of only two navies to operate in every ocean last year. You have to remember that there is no European navy, it’s done on a country-by-country basis which is inevitably “inefficient” as eg the Dutch can’t do 0.3 of an aircraft carrier. So it makes sense for the big, rich countries to weight disproportionately towards capital ships, and expect smaller countries like the Dutch to contribute (their rather good) AAW ships to the group. But the UK does have the resources to make a sovereign carrier group if it has to – it has more modern AAW ships than Italy and France put together, and Type 45’s have been AAW commanders for US carrier battle groups in the Gulf. There will always be at least one of both T45 and T23 in attendance, a Burke would be nice as additional cover but it would more likely be something like a De Zeven Provinciën or Sachsen. Unlikely to be ANZAC except for the odd trip to the Pacific.

      You have to remember that the British economy is ~1/7 of the US economy so of course things will be on a smaller scale. If you take the US battle force and divide it by 7, you end up with :

      1.6 carriers, 12.6 Burke/Ticos, 2.3 LCS, 2.0 SSBN, 0.6 SSGN, 7.3 SSN, 1.28 LHx, 1.6 LPD, 1.7 LSD.

      The RN actually has 1 carrier (another commissioning within months), 6 Type 45, 8 Type 23-2087, 5 Type 23 GP, 4 SSBN, 0 SSGN, 7 SSN, 0 LHx, 2 LPD, 3 LSD.

      Now nobody’s pretending that a T23 is the equivalent of a Burke, but then the US does have huge economies of scale when it comes to eg serial production of DDGs. And the two navies obviously have very different ideas on the weighting of ASW vs AAW. But overall, the RN doesn’t come off too badly. For all the fuss over the two carriers, each of our new SSBNs costs as much as a carrier (both looking at the vessel and “airgroup”), so the balance of RN capital ships will remain unseen below the water.

      • bob

        Sorry for the delay.

        I just want to start out that in no way was I denigrating the RN which I have considerable appreciation for, and I appreciate your succinct analysis.

        In either case, it is nice to see them running two carriers. I have a feeling that with the state of world affairs, particularly a push by certain countries to return to a Cold War posture. China, is intent on making the Western Pacific a Chinese lake. The other, Russia, is trying to use a common enemy in the West, NATO, and the United States to distract their populace from domestic concerns and return to a fantasy of a Russian (Soviet) Empire. I think we are going to be shortly playing games again in the oceans and the RN will be a significant partner.

  • George Gunnery

    Surely the F35Bs are based on our Harrier Jump Jets built in the US for the Marines.

    • El_Sid

      …which in turn were based on the UK’s Harriers – it was originally a British design. There’s been a lot of British technology gone into the -B in particular, which is why Britain has a privileged position within the F-35 organisation.

    • RDF

      The lift fan is a Yak36 idea. The B uses only one motor to do both unlike the Yak
      The AV8A was a brit product. The AV8B was a mcd product with a cockney accent.

    • Rocco

      Excuse me the Harrier was a British design before our current harrier. And the F-35 B is not even close to being based off it!

  • Rob C.

    Good their bring her online, but they barely afford it along with the rest of their shrinking fleet. UK needs beef their fleet up, but the Prince of Wales can’t be in commission at same time as the QE because the way their budgeting their navy, never mind Armed Forces. Their carriers are going budget challenge.